Mother's Wolf Story by Everett McNeil

When I was a boy there was one story which my sisters and brothers and I were never tired of hearing mother tell; for our own mother was its heroine and the scene of the thrilling chase was not more than a mile and a half from our own door. Indeed, we often went coasting on the very hill down which she took her fearful ride, and skated on the pond which was the scene of her adventure. I can still distinctly remember how, when the long winter evenings came and the snow lay deep on the ground and the wind whistled stormily without, we children would gather around the great sheet-iron stove in the sitting-room of the old farm-house and beg mother to tell us stories of the perils and hardships of her pioneer days; and how, invariably, before the evening was over some one of us would ask: "Now, mother, please do tell us, just once more, how you escaped from the wolves, when a girl, by coasting down Peek's Hill."

Mother would pause in her knitting, and, with a smile, declare that she had already told us the story "forty-eleven times"; but, just to please so attentive an audience, she would tell it even once more. Then, while we children crowded closer around her chair, she would resume her knitting and begin:

"When your grandfather settled in this part of Wisconsin I was a little girl thirteen years old. We moved into the log house father had prepared for us early in the spring, and by fall we had things fixed quite comfortable. The winter which followed was one of unusual severity. The snow fell, early in November, to the depth of three feet on the level; and the greater part of it remained on the ground all winter. This, of course, made grand coasting. Father made for me a sled with strong, hard, smooth hickory runners, and big enough for two to ride on. I declare, I don't believe there ever was such another sled for speed"; and mother's eyes would sparkle at the memories the thought of her faithful sled recalled.

"At this time the country was very thinly populated. Our nearest neighbor was Abner Jones, who lived some three miles away, over on the other side of Peek's Hill. Abner Jones had a little girl, named Amanda, about my own age, and we two children soon became great chums. After a big snow-storm, Amanda and I would go coasting on Peek's Hill whenever we could gain the permission of our parents. She would come over to my house, or I would go over to her house, and together we would go to the hill. Amanda had no sled; but we could both ride down on my sled, and then take turns pulling it up the hill.

"The first week in January there was a two-days' thaw, followed by a sharp freeze. This caused a thick, icy crust to form on top of the remaining snow, which, by the next day, became so hard and strong that it would bear the weight of a man. The water from the melted snow ran into the hollow at the foot of Peek's Hill, and made a large, deep pond, which was soon covered over with a sheet of gleaming ice. So, you see, Peek's Hill had become an ideal coasting-place; for we could slide down its steep side at lightning speed, and out upon the ice, and even clear across the pond, a good three-quarters of a mile from the top of the hill.

"On one Saturday afternoon following a thaw and a freeze-up, I secured the permission of my parents to go over to Amanda's and get her to come sliding with me down the hill. Father cautioned me to be sure and be home early, because the wolves, which at that time infested all this section of the country, were said to be getting very bold and fierce, especially at night time; and they had been known, when driven by hunger, to run down and kill horses and cattle and even human beings. Doubtless the cold and the deep snow had forced many southward from the great woods in the northern part of the State. But the caution fell on idle ears. I considered all wolves cowards; besides, I was not going to hunt wolves; I was bent upon coasting down-hill; and I did not believe any wolf would be foolish enough to take the trouble to run down a little girl when there were plenty of chickens and cattle to be had.

"I bundled up warmly, and, drawing my sled behind me, started 'cross lots over Peek's Hill to Amanda's house. Peek's Hill stood about half-way between our two homes. I left the heavy sled at the top of the hill to wait our return. When I reached the house I found Amanda laid up with a bad cold, and of course her mother would not allow her to go coasting; so I took off my things to stay in the house and play with her. Amanda had two rubber dolls, and we had such a jolly time playing with them that I did not notice how fast the time was passing until Mrs. Jones said, 'Come, my dear; it is time you were going!' Then she helped to bundle me up, gave me a doughnut hot from the kettle, and saw me safely started on my way home.

"The sun was nearing the western horizon. I glanced at it and hurried on. The first part of my way lay through heavy woods; then came an opening, in the midst of which rose Peek's Hill. The brow of the hill was perhaps forty rods from the edge of the woods, the steep incline down which we coasted being on the opposite side. There was no road, only a path worn through the snow by our neighborly feet.

"I had passed about half-way through the woods, when suddenly a great shaggy wolf bounded out into the path in front of me. The wolf stopped and glared hungrily at me for a moment, then dashed away into the brush. A moment after, I heard him howling a few rods in the rear. To my inexpressible horror, the howl was quickly answered by another, and then another, and still another, until to my terrified ears the woods seemed full of the ferocious beasts.

"There was no need of telling me what this meant. I was old enough and familiar enough with wolf-nature to know that the first wolf was calling to his mates to come and help him run down and kill his quarry.

"For a moment I stood still in my tracks, listening in trembling horror to the hideous howlings; then I gathered myself together and ran. Fear lent me wings. My feet seemed hardly to touch the snow. And yet it was but a minute before I heard the rapid pit-pat of the feet of the wolves on the hard crust of the snow behind me, and knew that they were drawing near. I reached the edge of the woods; and, as I dashed into the opening, I cast a hurried glance to the rear. Several great, gaunt wolves, running neck and neck, were not five rods behind me. They ran with their heads outstretched, making great bounds over the hard snow.

"At that time I was tall for my age, and could run like a deer. The sight of the wolves, so close behind me, caused me to redouble my efforts; but, in spite of my speed, as I reached the brow of the hill, I could hear their panting breaths, so near had they come. With a quick movement of my hands I threw off my heavy cloth cape and woolen hood. At the same instant my eyes caught sight of the sled, which I had left at the top of the hill. Fortunately it was standing facing the steep incline. If I could reach it before the wolves caught me, possibly I might yet escape! My hood and cape delayed the animals for an instant; but they were again upon me just as I, without slacking my speed in the least, caught the sled up into my hands and threw myself upon it.

"I think the sudden change in my position, just as they were about to spring on me, must have disconcerted the wolves for an instant; and before they recovered I was sliding down the hill. The wolves came tumbling and leaping after me, howling and snarling. At the start, the hill was very steep, and the frozen snow was as smooth and as slippery as ice. The sled kept going faster and faster, and soon I had the inexpressible delight of seeing that I was beginning to leave the wolves behind. Far below I saw the gleaming ice on the pond. About half-way down the hill the incline was considerably less steep, becoming nearly level just before reaching the pond. When I came to this part of the hill I again glanced behind, and, to my horror, saw that the wolves had begun to gain on me, and were now not more than two rods away. Evidently the sled was slowing up. There was nothing I could do to quicken its motion. My fate seemed certain. At last the sled reached the pond, and, while still but a few feet from the bank, I suddenly felt the ice bend and crack beneath me; but either my speed was too rapid or my weight too light, or both, for I did not break through, but sped swiftly on to stronger ice and to safety. For a moment the slippery ice delayed the wolves, then they came on swifter than ever, their sharp claws scratching the ice like knives. Finally I heard a crash, and glancing back, I saw a struggling jumble of heads and paws, and I knew in a moment that the combined weight of the wolves had broken through the ice at the weak place that had cracked as I passed over it.

"I left the sled at the margin of the pond, and hurried home, where, girl-like, I fell fainting into my mother's arms.

"There, children; that is how your mother escaped from the wolves by coasting down Peek's Hill; and that great wolfskin robe in the corner is one of the very hides that father took from the six bodies after he had dragged them out of the pond the next morning"; and mother, with a flush on her dear face, would point to the familiar wolfskin robe.

Then we children would bring the great robe from its place, spread it out on the floor before the fire, and, seating ourselves upon it, talk in low voices of the terrible ride our dear mother took down Peek's Hill when she was a girl and was chased by the wolves.